As I begin this column, I’m sitting in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. After spending 11 days in France and Germany, I’ve experienced some very filling meals. I’ve also seen incredible levels of homelessness and begging on the streets, especially in Paris. While the immigrant crisis is in full bloom in Europe, we have our own crises in America and Alaska.
Many sources are tracking the problem of food insecurity and data indicate it is a serious problem; World Hunger Education Service says hunger affects one in seven U.S. households.
Alan Budahl, executive director of Lutheran Social Services of Alaska says Alaska has similar levels of food insecurity and hunger as national data shows. “There is a growing demand for food distribution services,” he said. “It’s the easiest opportunity to deal with in our community. September is Hunger Action Month nationally. This is not about those who do not have jobs. Many recipients are working but don’t (earn) enough to pay rent, utilities, and buy food, especially our seniors.”
The Interfaith Council of Anchorage, a voluntary organization composed of several faith traditions is reactivating Crop Hunger Walk after a one-year hiatus. A program of Church World Service, Crop Hunger Walk’s motto is “Ending hunger one step at a time.” This year’s walk starts at First Congregational Church on East Northern Lights Blvd., Sunday, Sept. 27. Registration starts at 12:45 p.m. with the walk beginning at 1:30 p.m. led by the Crow Creek Pipes and Drums. A band of high school musicians will welcome returning walkers. You can sign up at the walk, join a team ahead of time, or create your own team. At the Anchorage Crop Hunger Walk website you can send notes to people asking them to support your personal walk with a donation. It’s easy to do and will produce results. I created a Church Visits team and would welcome your support by joining my team and contributing.
Penny Goldstein is Interfaith’s head. Sharing some details about the walk, she said, “Crop Hunger Walk raises money and awareness of hunger in our community and nationally. People donate money, and cajole friends to donate money, to the cause. Then they walk. It is not a competitive race, but a leisurely stroll.” Discussing the background of the walk, Penny noted, “Church Women United has sponsored the walk locally in the past. When one of their very active members, Mary Jane Landstrom, died, the walk seemed to die with her. Mary Jane was also an active member of the Interfaith Council and was instrumental in starting the food bank. Interfaith Council of Anchorage has several members who loved this walk, and we worked to resurrect it. We had an organizational meeting of everyone we could find that was interested. The resulting committee is active and has arranged to revive the walk.”
Crop Hunger Walk provides 25 percent of the money raised to local charities. The Interfaith Council has chosen F.I.S.H., St. Francis Food Pantry, and the Downtown Soup Kitchen as the local recipients. Organizers encourage participants to bring non-perishable food, and Lutheran Social Services of Alaska will receive the food. The remainder of the money goes to Church World Service, but participants can donate to one of many national charities if they want the money to go to a specific place. This feature allows faith groups that want to contribute to their own organizations the ability to participate.
As Budhal notes, September is National Hunger Action month. Feeding America has done much to focus attention on the hunger issue. They have a website full of information, resources and ideas to help individuals become more informed about this problem and how to solve it.
Food Bank of Alaska has released a helpful focus sheet about local activities during Hunger Action Month. Although September is half gone this list is full of ideas and activities with which to engage.
The problems of hunger in our society are entrenched and need more attention than can be given in this brief column. It’s all too easy to be critical of those who are food insecure, unless you know the facts. Once you do, you’ll be more prepared to help. Worldhunger.org identifies the major cause of hunger as poverty. They’ve identified three key causal factors for poverty. First: The operation of the U.S. economic and political system has led to certain people/groups being relatively disenfranchised. Second: The U.S. political system, which should address the major problems of its citizens, is to a great extent not focused on fundamental concerns of poor people, but on other concerns. Third: The culture of inequality.
The Interfaith Council of Anchorage has other programs and activities worth examining. One such program is Meeting Face to Face. It encourages dialogue between members of different faith traditions who are interested in learning more about one another’s beliefs, communities and cultures such as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Unitarianism and various Christian traditions. Qualified members of the Interfaith Council will come to your location and facilitate an open discussion with your group and people of faith from the selected tradition in a relaxed and respectful environment.
Mother Teresa, noted Missionaries of Charity founder and worldwide humanitarian used to say, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, you can just feed one.”
Humanitarians currently, and in recent memory, have also raised strident voices to look beyond ourselves to others in need. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, a religious leader, philosopher and author, says, “Close to a billion people — one-eighth of the world’s population — still live in hunger. Each year 2 million children die through malnutrition. This is happening at at time when doctors in Britain are warning of the spread of obesity.”
Our faith community is actively involved in addressing hunger, and Crop Hunger Walk is a fun and easy way to contribute to a well-identified issue. It only takes one person to make a difference.
Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog,churchvisits.com.